We normally come to Italy for the history, culture and food. But we also love a good beach break that provides a much-needed reprieve from the Italian heat. Over the years, we have been to many Italian coastal towns that we enjoyed, be that for the beach or the views that come with these locations. From the well-known places often frequented by tourist, to the less familiar, here is a list of some of our favourites.
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Alba Adriatica ranks quite high on our list of favourite Italian coastal towns. With sandy beaches, waterfront bike paths and numerous bars, Alba Adriatica is a seaside resort with a lively night life. You can swim in the ocean, nap on the beach or take your bike for a spin along the waterfront or people watch day or night. This is a place for fun and relaxation.
Located in the Abruzzo region of central eastern Italy, Alba Adriatica is on a stretch of white sandy coast of the Adriatic Sea. It’s a popular summer destination for Italian families with many holiday apartments and hotels lining the main strip. We accidentally discovered it many years ago as we were trying to get to Rimini. After driving for hours through the mountains we were tired and hungry. As it was getting darker and Rimini seemed still hours away, we pulled off the highway into the first town that we came across. We hit a jackpot.
In the end, we never made it to Rimini and Alba Adriatica became one of our favourite Italian coastal towns. We like it so much that we’ve explored the idea of getting a place here. After all, it’s good to live where you are comfortable.
As the capital of Sardinia, Cagliari has it all. A city with history, culture, architecture and an extensive foodie scene that also has parks, beaches and wildlife. It’s not a surprise we fell in love with it from the start.
While not as popular as other destinations in Italy, Cagliari is one of our favourite Italian coastal towns. It’s the type of place where you can find something to do no matter what your taste. Explore its ancient history through the many museums and ancient streets as you wander around. Add a vibrant vibe of the city, where people spill onto patios and streets with gusto as they socialize and dine. Combine that with the relaxing outdoors and you have yourself a winning combination.
Nearby Poetto Beach offers a great break from the heat and a chance to snooze on the beach in between dips in the ocean. You can watch the wildlife, bike or walk along the waterfront and take in everything that Cagliari has to offer. It’s out kind of place.
Limone sul Garda
When we decided to stay in the Lake Garda area, we weren’t sure what to expect. We chose to stay in Limone sul Garda and ended up finding another place to love. Beautiful views of the lake, mountains and historical architecture checked off all the boxes for us. As far as Italian coastal towns go, this one is as pretty as they come.
We were surprised to see so many lemon, olive and other citrus trees thriving in the region. It’s easy to see where the city gets its name (limone is lemon in Italian). Unlike in the Amalfi Coast, where lemon trees grown down the mountainous slopes, in Limone the mountain gardens are laid out with rows of pillars rising in steps. The pillars, used for creating a cover for the trees planted between them in winter, are quite unique and seem like alien structures, especially in the dark.
Although today Limone sul Garda is a popular tourist resort, until 1940s it was only accessible to outsiders by boat or through the mountains. Since a lot of Germans seem to favour this area you almost feel like you’re in the Bavarian Alps rather than in Italy. It’s almost like being in two places at once.
A short boat ride across the lake from Limone sul Garda lies the picturesque town of Malcesine. It was here that the writer Goethe stopped by during his Italian journey in 1786 and was suspected of being an Austrian spy by the local officials. I guess that’s what you get for sketching pictures of the castle in those days.
This history of Malcesine goes back to the Etruscans, around 500 BC. With many rulers over the centuries, it finally became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Throw in a medieval fortification, a castle with stunning views and Malcesine looks like something out of a picture book.
It’s not hard to see why it’s become one of our favourite Italian coastal towns. If picturesque medieval towns aren’t your thing, you can take the cable car to the top of Monte Baldo, 1750 metres (5,741 feet) above sea level.
The journey is broken up into two stages, each in a different cable car. The top is also accessible by a trail, if you’re determined to take your experience to another level. Depending on the weather, the views are either spectacular or obstructed by clouds.
Not to be confused with Ostia Antica, Ostia is a resort town with a great vibe not too far from Rome. Just as the Ancient Romans used Ostia Antica as a port and seaside escape, many Romans today spend their summer holidays here.
Once one of Ancient Rome’s great port cities, Ostia Antica became an abandoned marshland infested with malaria. Reclamation of land and a new Roma-Ostia railway gave way to a new town, Ostia, that quickly became a popular seaside destination. Considering the extensive beaches, Art Nouveau architecture, numerous bars and restaurant, Ostia is a great option for a quick getaway from the summer heat.
We also love that it’s close to the archeological site of Ostia Antica and everything Rome has to offer. After all, the proximity to Roman ruins is a big plus for us and the beach doesn’t hurt either. It’s not surprising that Ostia makes it onto our list of our favourite Italian coastal towns.
While we didn’t partake in any beach activities in Palermo, we fell in love with the city and its many charms. There is a certain chaos and grime to Palermo that hides the rich history and the architectural gems of the past. It’s a laid-back place with little attitude. You take it or leave it.
As an ancient port and home to many cultures, Palermo is a city of discovery. You can find the past, live in the present and imagine the future. The story of Palermo is one still being written. It’s a great time to weave yourself into its fabric and enjoy all it has to offer.
Unsurprisingly, it’s no wonder it made our list of favourite Italian coastal towns. After all, it’s a place where I feel totally at home. So much so that I could live here or maybe I already have. In a different time. It’s a strange and comforting idea.
A little gem in the Campania region, Palinuro became a bit hit for us from the moment we got there. Palinuro, with its clear waters and beaches woven between mountains, is a popular destination for many.
It also makes the list of our favourite Italian coastal towns. Beach time, especially during the hot summers, is like a national sport for Italians and they come here to play.
Palinuro is a place for relaxing and unwinding. There isn’t that much to do other than just enjoy the outdoors and live the famous la dolce vita. We did and loved every part of it. The best part was, we were able to bring our dogs on the beach, which made this experience even better.
While the Amalfi Coast is famous for its many towns, the beautiful Ravello takes the top spot of our favourite town in Amalfi. Perched high above the rocky coast, Ravello has breathtaking views of the towns below it and reaches all the way down to the coast. Add in charming villas, quaint shops and elaborate gardens, and it’s easy to see why so many, including the composer Richard Wagner, fall in love with this place.
The stunning views of the Tyrrhenian Sea make this a top spot on our list of our favourite Italian coastal towns. Having been to Ravello twice, it’s hard to believe that most people travelling to the Amalfi Coast never make it there.
Ravello is also home to one of the oldest and most renowned music festivals in Italy. Because of that, it’s known as the City of Music. The concerts, held at the impressive Villa Rufolo restored by the Scottish philanthropist Francis Neville Reid, are a nice addition to the appeal of Ravello.
If there is a place that looks like it belongs in a fantasy tale, Sirmione is it. The town’s medieval castle and its fortification seem to rise out of water, adding to the fairy tale-like image. The castle is surrounded by water and its protective walls extend into the lake, forming a large, water-filled square. There is a small partition in one of the walls that in the past allowed boats to enter. You can walk along the one side of the inner walls of the fortification and climb the outlook tower for an additional fee. You can also climb 150 or so steps to the top of the castle tower for beautiful views of the surrounding area.
While the castle is a highlight of Sirmione, the rest of the towns has its own charm that is worth exploring. You can wander around the stone streets, enjoy a giant gelato or sip an Aperol spritz on one of the many patios. With history all around, gorgeous sunsets and stunning views, Sirmione is a new addition to our favourite Italian coastal towns.
There is no other place in the world like Venice. Seemingly rising out of the water, the majestic homes of Venice are a reminder of human determination, ambition and tenacity. They are also gorgeous. You don’t have to be an architecture lover to appreciate them for their mastery.
For me, Venice makes the list of favourite Italian coastal towns because of its beauty, history and uniqueness. I love strolling the streets of Venice and getting lost among the many canals, alleys and piazzas. Each turn is a discovery and a glimpse into the past.
To truly appreciate Venice, you need to see it from water and on land. During the day and after dark. In pure sunshine, under clouds and during rain. With each, you get a different side of Venice. When you get tired of looking at it, stop for a bite to eat, because the food here is amazing.
Italian coastal towns beyond the list
Italy has a lot of coastal frontage, lined with stunning towns. I think it would almost be easier to list the ones we didn’t like, to be frank. While I tried to capture the ones we have been to, there are also so many that we drove through.
Also, there are so many amazing Italian coastal towns that we haven’t been to yet. I imagine this list will get a lot bigger as time goes by and the more places we visit. That’s the charm of these places and I look forward to discovering more of them. I already have a list in mind that I want to get to soon.
Final thoughts on Italian coastal towns
There are also many other popular Italian coastal towns we’ve been to that didn’t make this list. You might be wondering why I didn’t list the well-known and documented ones. While they have their own appeal and popularity, not all were our favourites. Also, I didn’t want this to be just another post on towns you’ve most likely already read about. How fun would that be? Now you have some new places to add to your list.
Were you familiar with all our favourite Italian coastal towns? Do you have any of your own? Let me know.